Middle Ear Infections in Children
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It is one of the most common diseases of early childhood. It is caused by a collection of fluid/pus behind the eardrum. This fluid blocks hearing, much as an earplug would. It is a major cause of hearing problems in infants, preschoolers, and school-age children.
After an ear infection is treated with antibiotics, fluid may remain. This fluid, even if it is just clear fluid, may eventually cause the eardrum to dissolve and scar. This can lead to damage of the eardrum and permanent hearing loss.
When a child has a mild hearing loss because of otitis media, he/she will miss soft sounds. This may include short words and phrases, voice inflections, and especially the ending sounds of words. Mild hearing loss in early childhood can decrease a child’s ability to develop speech and language. This can make learning and reading difficult.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Your child may:
- Frequently ask to have things repeated
- Speak too loudly or softly
- Show strain trying to hear or tire easily
- Have trouble finding the sources of sound and use searching behavior
- Be inattentive or daydream
- Make mistakes in following directions
- Have a speech and/or language development delay
- Describe rather than name people, places, or things
- Follow the actions of others, taking visual clues from what they do
- Respond to some sounds and not to others
- Tire and become frustrated easily
- Have difficulty maintaining balance
To help your child during times of reduced hearing:
- Be sure you have the attention of your child before you speak to him/her.
- Speak in an ordinary tone of voice at close range; avoid shouting or exaggerated lip movements.
- If your child does not hear you the first time, move closer and repeat the message using different or more descriptive words.
- When a family group is present, have one person talk at a time so the child can follow the conversation.
- Encourage your child to look at your face when you speak.
- Provide hands-on experiences along with verbal instructions.
- Encourage your child to take part in family activities, especially those involving language enrichment.
- Be patient with your child. Remember: hearing through middle ear fluid is like wearing earplugs. Your child is not likely ignoring you.
Ear infections in children are very common. Learn from ENT specialist, Paul Judge, MD, when they are cause for concern and what treatment options are available.